I must confess to you that I had absolutely no recollection of arranging, playing, recording and writing about the Rodgers and Hart beautiful standard called You Are Too Beautiful exactly five and a half years ago today. That said, I refuse to accept the fact that my slip of memory is a “senior moment”. After all, my long-time adult piano students often marvel at how well I remember situations and people in their lives that they’ve mentioned at a lesson several years before.
So let me tell you why I became excited about playing You Are Too Beautiful for today’s post.
You may recall that in some of my posts, I have mentioned the fact that I learn from my piano students. Most music teachers with whom I’ve spoken wholeheartedly agree with this from their own experiences.
Usually, the two most common ways that I learn from students are:
- Exposure to pieces I do not know. This can run the gamut from show tunes to pop material. Lately, this has also included some note-for-note arrangements from pianists such as Jarrod Raddnich, Kyle Landry and The Piano Guys.
- Refining the concepts of my teaching method. Although I have been teaching certain concepts that became part of my teaching method more than 30 years ago, every time I present them to a student, my ability to communicate them improves. As a result, students understand them more quickly.
This time was different though. I had an adult student who commuted from North Hampton, MA for her piano lessons last year. Not only did she have a wonderful and heartfelt feeling for whatever pieces she played, but she would bring in some of her favorite standards and ask me to play them for her. With no preparation time, I had to interpret each piece on the spot.
Of course, I was in the perfect position to do what author Barry Green advises in The Inner Game of Music. He says: “give yourself permission to make a mistake; you will actually be more relaxed and free and often play better than you can imagine.” And so that’s why I often did a nice job with each requested tune. After I played them, my student asked lots of questions about what I had done.
Enter Rodgers and Hart: she put the lead sheet of You Are Too Beautiful up on the piano and asked for my interpretation. Not remembering that I had ever played it, I jumped in with both feet, not literally of course, and played this marvelous standard as a ballad. Since I’ve featured so many tunes in my nine years of publishing Conversations at the Piano, not to mention all of the songs I’ve played at gigs, worked on with my students and even played in church, you can see how easy it was to forget this one.
The rendition that accompanies today’s post reflects both the signature style that I developed during my 14 year stint (1987-2001) as pianist-in-residence at the Sheraton Milford Hotel and the musical maturity that I have developed in the years since. I still approached You Are Too Beautiful as a ballad while picking up the tempo during the improvised choruses.
You may find it interesting to hear my previous recording and read about the composer and background of this piece too. Speaking of interesting, I was amazed at the variety of renditions that became part of my Spotify play list.
When I was first listening, it seemed like most jazz instrumentalists and vocalists treated You Are Too Beautiful as the beautiful ballad that it is. However, I was both surprised and delighted by the other styles that allow this classic composition to shine.
Smooth jazz saxophonist Kirk Whalum frames this ballad with an infectious background that is truly catchy while still capturing the romantic feeling. Vocalist Kurt Elling’s jazz waltz version is incredible and combines the talents of saxophonist Ernie Watts and the string quartet called Ethel with his excellent jazz ensemble.
A nicely done up tempo swing version comes from the Danish musician Paul Godske’s Quintet. Continuing with the international community of jazz musicians, the Australian Jazz Quartet performance is truly colorful and delightful. Known for collaborating with American jazz players including Dave Brubeck back in the 1950s, their cool style of jazz combining the sounds of the flute, vibes and bassoon with piano, bass and drums includes some wonderful counterpoint.
Among the many wonderful ballad versions of You Are Too Beautiful that caught my attention was the track by the duo of Italian pianist Renato Sellani and Swiss flugelhorn player Franco Ambrosetti. To finish the list is the ballad version by pianist Junior Mance which moves into double time during the improvised sections. Years ago I had to opportunity to speak with Junior at a few of his gigs. His bluesy inflections and well-organized arrangements, which made excellent use of his ensemble, always appealed to my musical tastes.
At this point, I think you would agree that Rodgers and Hart created a marvelous standard in You Are Too Beautiful. Although its character certainly lends itself to the romantic ballad style, it also offers musicians the opportunity to take it in the direction that speaks to their individual tastes.
How about you? Wouldn’t you like to feel free enough to play a song in the musical style that speaks to you?
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